HIP SET: Gripping crime novel is ‘a love poem to Tel Aviv’

“We have a chance to write books showing Israel as a real place…a place not defined by the Arab-Israeli conflict, where real people live real lives, in stories that still must, by their character and context, take place in [the Land of] Israel.”

By Atara Beck, World Israel News

New York Times best-selling author Michael Fertik’s latest book, HIP SET, is a page-turning crime mystery based in Tel Aviv that introduces the reader to some of Israel’s cultural diversity, focusing particularly on the Sudanese refugee community and their struggles.

In an interview with World Israel News, Fertik, a successful internet entrepreneur and an “overt Zionist,” discussed his choice of Tel Aviv as the setting for his novel, especially as an American writer.

Why did you choose to write a novel based in Tel Aviv, of all places?

Fertik: “I love Israel.  My family has a deep and long history with Israel. I visit Israel often, and a big part of my professional life is investing in Israeli startups.  I also love the noir genre.

“Around 5 a.m. one morning, suffering from the hilariously tenacious jet lag you get when traveling from the West Coast, I had my toes in the sand on Banana Beach, drinking an Americano, and BAM!  The thought popped into my head: ‘Write a noir set in Tel Aviv!’ As soon as that happened, I knew I had to do it and was going to do it.  It was simple as that.

“I think there is a huge opportunity now for a new generation of American writers to take an interest in Israel as a setting for their novels. American writers used to place a lot of books in Israel, and a few still do from time to time.  Over the past 70, American literature taking place in Israel has generally fallen into two large buckets.

“The first is what you might call ‘biblical retelling,’ some form of novelization of an episode or theme from the Tanakh. That category continues and is, of course, evergreen.

HIP SET novel

“The second is literature that took place in what might be labeled the ‘heroic’ age of the modern State of Israel, from about 1948 until 1967 or 1973, when Israel was establishing itself against all odds and proving to the world, as the underdog, that it was able to accomplish wondrous and impossible objectives and show that it was here for good.”

A new window for Zionist writers

“Over the last 40 years or so, that body of literature has waned significantly, as — regrettably — much of the world no longer sees Israel as pulling off miracle after miracle in a fight for its life. This opens a new window for writers, including Zionist writers like me. We have a chance to write books showing Israel as a real place, a place that is now a fact, a country that is now part of the firmament, a place not defined by the Arab-Israeli conflict, where real people live real lives, in stories that still must, by their character and context, take place in Eretz Israel [Land of Israel].

“Some Israeli writers are doing this, of course, but I believe it is important that there be a diaspora literature that takes place in Israel.”

How do you know Tel Aviv so well?

“As you can tell, HIP SET is, in some ways, a love poem to Tel Aviv. I love the city.  I come often for my work investing in Israeli startups, and I have spent personal time carefully exploring the city’s highways and corners.”

South Tel Aviv has been plagued by terrible violence, reportedly perpetrated by a large percentage of Sudanese and Eritrean refugees (obviously not all). According to reports, many elderly Israeli residents in those neighborhoods are too poor to move and they’re terrified to leave their homes. Is there a reason that this problem was overlooked in the book?

“I actually think the atmosphere of violence in South Tel Aviv shows up in multiple significant ways. The book opens with the murder of a young man who turns out to be an unnamed Sudanese immigrant. The police immediately begin their investigation in the Sudanese community.  And without giving away too many plot points (!), we meet characters from the community who feel potentially unsavory, at least one of whom meets a grisly . . . well, I’ve said too much for the reading public! ”

I understand that you invest in Israel. Is that because it’s a good opportunity, or is there more to it, such as being a Zionist?

“I am an overt Zionist.  I love spending time in Israel, bringing my family to Israel, and investing in Israeli companies. However, I would not be investing in Israeli startups if it were not also a terrific economic opportunity. For example, over the past few years, I became the very first investor or among the very first investors in what have turned out to be three Israeli unicorns. Hooray!”